18 May 2014

Four sweaters in two weeks

The timeperiod wasn't that short overall, but some serious procrastinating made it seem so.  I had two sweaters partially done, but the prospect of finishing all four in time was daunting.

Why did I have such a deadline?  There is a group called Mittens for Akkol that makes warm items for the children in orphanages from which a number of the women have adopted children.  The orphanages are in Kazahkstan, so it gets COLD there.  I have posted about knitting for this group before, and this year thought it would be easy to get four sweaters done and I could do some extra items.

Then I went overseas for a couple of weeks and wanted to take something smaller and more meaningful to work on whilst traveling (ditto DFW Fiber Fest, mostly a small item so that I could save space in luggage for yarn, of course!), and came back straight into a very intense play rehearsal and performance schedule, on top of which I was involved in a couple other events, such as SWAN DAY for which I wanted to make a number of items to sell (I sold one, which made me think it wasn't worth the time but others sold zero,and they will go into my Etsy shop), including helping to build the set items for Trashion Fashion 2014 which involved a couple near-allnighters.  The stuff looked really cool in the end.  But that brought me to midmonth and not much further ahead - two sweaters half-done.

It was clear that the only way I could get these done by the beginning-of-May deadline, although friends will tell you I am a fast knitter (one emailed that when I mentioned using a machine, he thought I was referring to the fact that I can knit without paying attention - plain knitting, anyway), was to pull out a knitting machine.  Mine is an older model and I used it last year when asked at almost the last minute whether I could do a replacement sweater for one that was promised and not made.  Which I did.

Could I do two, plus finish the ones that required handwork, and get them to Nanci before she travels so they can be packed, without having to take time off work and being able to get some sleep?

Apparently, with the help of the machine, and not a lot of sleep - yes.

Sweater for Dima - machine knit
Sweater for Sasha - hand-knit
Sweater for Ramil - machine knit
Sweater for Vlad - crocheted body
I waited to post until I was sure the second box arrived.  Forty minutes earlier and I would have sent it by Priority Mail, but I had to use UPS, which is slightly more trustworthy but cost about twice as much.  Oh, well, part of the penalty I paid for not working on these more diligently earlier.

As I said, to get the sweaters done, I did two on the machine. And I ended up doing the tweed sleeves on the machine - body crocheted, so I didn't need to put ribbing on the hem, with handknit ribbing on the sleeves and neckline.  Out of curiosity, I timed the making of the last sweater.  Here's how it went:

First, set up the machine.  I have five balls of black worsted-weight wool and three of light grey (Patons Classic Wool), plus a large ball of multicoloured cotton that is the waste yarn.  I used all five of the black wool and a bit less than two of the light grey.  The teens get to choose up to three colours for the items (sweater, hat, scarf, mittens, and two pairs of socks) they receive, and all four boys asked for black/white/light grey items.  Apologies that some of the colour levels are weird - black is a difficult colour to photograph, especially at night with limited indoor lights.
Ready to start.

Setting up for 96 stitches across.
Ready-to-knit, first with cotton waste yarn.
Changing to the black wool - and error!
You start by setting up the machine for a certain number of stitches per row - 96 in this case, because Ramil is a large guy.Chest 38.5" and neck-to-waist (so sweater has to be longer) is 26".

A few rows of the waste yarn, then I switched to the wool.  Every so often I had stitches "pop" as shown in the picture on the right, and I had to fix those manually or get holes in the knitting - or worse, it fell off the machine entirely!

It took me about 1h30 to knit the back and 1hr50 to do the front - I think I was more tired and not as careful about getting the tension correctly, as I had more manual repairs to do.  The back has about 16,320 stitches in it and the front about 14,400 because you shape the shoulders to allow for the collar to fit better.  I did this part - shaping and adding the collar after sewing the shoulders together - I did the manual knitting in about 2h30.
Taking the piece off the machine.

Shoulders and collar done by hand.
Next the sleeves get added.  Instead of waste yarn, you do the pickup directly into the sides of the sweater body.  This means rolling up the body around the weight - and re-rolling it when the sleeve gets long enough to reach the floor.  The sides are rectangles but the sleeves are more triangular, every few rows I decreased a stitch on each side.

Getting ready to knit the sleeve.

FUBAR!  Remember what I said about
dropping stitches?  FROG TIME.
The righthand picture shows what happened to the first sleeve.  I didn't check when I knit the first row, and as you can see a number of stitches were dropped, then picked up about two rows later.  Of course I frogged this (after using some of my extensive and multilingual vocabulary of bad words) and restarted it.  Later.

The sleeves took about 2h15 total, not counting the restart due to the holes.  So total machine knitting time was a little under six hours - more, of course, if you count the re-doing.

Going on a needle to handknit ribbing.
I matched stripes pretty well.
Once that was done, all I needed to do was sew the side seams and add the ribbing for cuffs and at the bottom of the sweater.  I was a big chuffed that I did such a neat job matching stripes, as seaming is NOT something I enjoy and one reason I tend to knit sweaters (such as Sasha's) in the round.  His is the icelandic-style (round yoke) one, with ridges of white alpaca separating the grey/black tweed from the black main body, and done at a somewhat chunky gauge for speed.  The final sewing-together and ribbing was another 2.5-3 hours, so the handknitting, although much less in terms of number of stitches, took as long as or longer than the machine knitting.

By the way, the stripes on Dima's and Ramil's sweaters are not just to make them more interesting.  They helped me to count how many rows were done so that I knew how many more to go for the length needed. I didn't want the sweaters to look exactly alike so I gave them different stripe patterns.

It felt very funny when these were all gone, and I didn't have knitting sitting right next to me.  I'd put all the in-progress projects away so I would not be distracted.  Time to get them out - you'd think I'd want some time without yarn in my hands, but it doesn't feel like me!